Let’s talk about Strange Magic.
The first animated film of 2015, the first film from Lucasfilm Animation since 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars feature film, and the feature-length directorial debut of Gary Rydstrom, a Pixar sound designer who’s previous credits include the short films Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation and Lifted, in addition to being the English-Language voice over director for all of Studio Ghibli’s recent films (Tales from Earthsea, The Secret World of Arrietty, From Up on Poppy Hill, and The Wind Rises).
But here’s the weird thing: until last month, nobody knew that this project even existed. First, there was the announcement, which had been met with a relatively positive response. Granted, there was curiosity about the fact that the film had been announced less than three months before its scheduled release, but readers seemed to have taken to it with a cautiously optimistic attitude.
And then…the trailer arrived, along with a change in public opinion that arrived so quickly it could have given a person whiplash.
Having watched the trailer myself, the negative drawback is (in many ways) justified. I wasn’t exactly impressed with what appeared to be more of a junked-together collection of outdated feature animation tropes with a thin plot stitched around it than anything resembling an actual film. That and it’s not particularly pretty to look at, even though the animation itself is quite decent and if the several statements are to be believed, that’s more or less the point (I’ll touch on this later).
So if you’re one of those people who didn’t like what they saw (and in all honesty, that’s essentially a lot of you), you may have asked yourself: what happened? How did this pass and how did we not know about it until just before its release date?
Well, from what we’ve been able to piece together, the film was already well in production before Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in late 2012, a move that might have complicated its production cycle. It’s not a clear-cut explanation, but that would explain things. Which leads me to another point: George Lucas.
While he didn’t write or direct the film, he did come up with the main story (loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). According to Rydstrom, Lucas “really wanted to make a beautiful fairy tale with goblins and elves, and do it in a way that only this company can do. He had been working on it for a long time.” It was Rydstrom who suggested the idea that the story should be about “finding beauty in strange places.” Thus the admittedly grotesque designs of many of its characters (and further emphasized by its poster).
Rydstrom had also mentioned that he and his crew screened the film for Disney executives. And despite Lucas’ involvement (“in some ways George was our John [Lasseter] on this one” Rydstrom admits), it’s a strong possibility that the film we saw in the trailer might not have been the film that Lucasfilm intended it to be, despite all words to the contrary. It could just be that when the Lucasfilm acquisition happened, the film simply got caught up in the logistical whirlwind of it all, only to end up in the middle of a creative tug-o-war between Disney and Lucasfilm heads as to what their version of the film should be. Thus, it had to develop whilst being victim to the stress and toil of it all, leading eventually to the film that will bow in theaters in less than four weeks.
In short, what we have here may be the unfortunate result of the acquisition and all the tricky inner-company politics that came with it. Which is bad since you can clearly see Rydstrom’s enthusiasm for the project when he says this: “I remember when Labryinth came out and how exciting that was. There was a magic to that, this has the same vibe to me.”
Unfortunately not everybody is on the same note (which is putting it lightly). It’s also telling that Disney releasing this film in January, a month that’s traditionally seen as a dumping ground for major studios (same with February).
But then, 2014 has seen two contradictory examples with The Nut Job and The LEGO Movie, two films which dominated the box office when no one really expected them to. So in terms of its box-office fate, Strange Magic may have something of a fighting chance.
On the flip side, could this film bear the heavy misfortune of being the first bad animated film of 2015? One thing’s for sure: we won’t have much longer to wait until we find out.
Strange Magic will arrive in theaters on January 23, 2015.
What do you think? Any other mystery pertaining to this film? Are you actually going to see it when it comes out?
(Author’s note: On behalf of everyone here at Rotoscopers, we’d like to wish you, our readers, a very happy New Year’s. We’ll see you in 2015!)